ERISA And A Jury Trial

Fort Worth ERISA attorneys already know that an ERISA case is not entitled to a jury trial. The U.S. District Court For The Southern District Of Texas Houston Division issued an opinion wherein that issue was a point of contention. The style of the case is Lucinda Francis v. South Central Houston Action Council, Inc. D/B/A Central Care Community Health Center.
Francis alleges that on July 25, 2013, Central Care terminated her employment. Francis filed her Complaint alleging that Central Care violated section 510 of ERISA when it terminated her employment soon after she elected to enroll in Central Care’s employee health insurance program because Central Care wanted to avoid covering Francis’s benefit plan expenses. Francis also alleges that Central Care’s motivation for terminating her employment violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She requested a trial by jury on all of her claims. In Defendant’s Answer Central Care alleged that Francis’s termination was based on Francis’s insubordination in failing to follow proper policies and procedures with regard to clocking in and out. Central Care moved to strike Francis’s ERISA claim, arguing that Francis lacks standing to bring an ERISA claim and that ERISA claims are not triable by a jury.
Central Care argues that Francis’s ERISA claim should be stricken based on lack of statutory standing because Francis does not qualify as a “participant” in Central Care’s benefit plan. Francis responds that a motion for summary judgment, rather than a Rule 12(f) motion to strike under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is the appropriate vehicle for dismissal of an ERISA claim based on lack of statutory standing. Central Care responds that its Motion to Strike was not raised pursuant to Rule 12(f), and that Francis’s ERISA claim should be stricken because Francis lacks standing and the court therefore lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
Pursuant to 29 U.S.C., Section 1132(a), ERISA provides that a “participant” has standing to bring a civil enforcement action. Standing under section 510 of ERISA is contingent on whether there is proof of conduct prohibited by ERISA. This is a fact issue that must be resolved through a motion for summary judgment or at trial. Defendant’s Motion to Strike on the basis of ERISA standing was therefore denied.
Asserting that ERISA claims are not triable by jury, Central Care sought an order striking Francis’s ERISA claim. Because ERISA claims are equitable in nature, the Fifth Circuit and the majority of other circuits have held that ERISA claims do not entitle a plaintiff to a jury trial. Central Care’s Motion to Strike Francis’s jury demand was therefore granted.